2nd Sunday of Advent, Year C

PEARL HARBOR MOVIE (4:47) – Surprise Attack scene (Viewer Discretion Advised)

Get Ready! Be Prepared


The Second Sunday of Advent challenges us to prepare a royal highway in our hearts so that we may receive Jesus as our saving God on Christmas. We should also be prepared for Christ’s daily coming into our lives in the Holy Eucharist, in the Holy Bible, in everyone we encounter, and in the praying community. Finally, we are asked to be ready to meet Jesus as our Judge on His Second Coming, at the end of our lives and at the end of the world.

Homily Starter Anecdote

The conventional wisdom is that every homily should begin with a story to capture the congregation’s attention and to introduce the theme. 

Preparation for VIPs

When the President or Prime Minister of a country is scheduled to make a public appearance, his staff prepares weeks and even months in advance to make certain that the proper protocol will be observed and the leader’s security will be assured. Similarly, detailed preparations precede the appearance of religious leaders like the Pope. Programs are scheduled, choral presentations are practiced, gifts are bought, and special persons are chosen to present them in the most gracious manner possible, so that the honored one is duly recognized and appreciated. Careful planning also accompanies the appearances of other political figures, celebrity entertainers and rock singers. When rock stars like Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson and Bruce Springsteen made a tour, elaborate preparations were made for their coming. If they came to the Silverdome in Pontiac, Michigan, for example, their entourage would arrive ahead of time to get things ready for their concert. Stages would be set; lighting would be adjusted, sound checks made; every care would be taken so that the needs and whims of each guest would be fully accommodated.

One wonders if today’s Gospel about John the Baptist proclaiming the coming of Jesus applies more to modern rock stars than it does to the true Messiah. Only when we put the same care and commitment into our spiritual Christmas preparations that rock stars put into their musical performances will “all mankind begin to see the salvation of God.”


“Dam up the Detroit River and baptize the entire city!”

William P. Barker tells about a machinist with the Ford motor company in Detroit who had, over a period of years, “borrowed” various parts and tools from the company which he had not bothered to return. While this practice was not condoned, it was more or less accepted by management, and nothing was done about it. The machinist, however, experienced a Christian conversion. He was baptized and became a devout believer. More important, he took his Baptism seriously. The very next morning, he arrived at work loaded down with tools and all the parts he had “borrowed” from the company during the years. He explained the situation to his foreman, added that he’d never really meant to steal them and hoped he’d be forgiven. The foreman was so astonished and impressed by his action, that he cabled Mr. Ford himself, who was visiting a European plant, and explained the entire event in detail. Immediately Ford cabled back: “Dam up the Detroit River,” he said, “and baptize the entire city!” [Tarbell’s Teacher’s Guide, Vol. 82, (Old Tappan, N.J.: Fleming H. Revell, 1986).

We can only hope and pray that every Christian takes his or her Baptism that seriously.


“Get ready!”

December 7th, 1941 – Pearl Harbor Day – the “date which will live in infamy,” according to President Roosevelt. (A Date with Destiny). December 7, 1941 was, for what is called “the Greatest Generation,” the day that changed their world, just as September 11th is the day that changed the world for the generation of today. Larry Krespan was lying on the living room floor reading the Sunday paper. “We interrupt this program to bring you a special news bulletin: “The Japanese have attacked Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, by air, President Roosevelt has just announced. The attack was also was made on all naval and military activities on the principal island of Oahu.”

Eighty years ago, at Pearl Harbor, one pilot dropped a bomb right down the smoke stack of the USS Arizona. It went five decks down into the boiler room and exploded like a volcano. But the most devastating bomb hit the forward magazine area and exploded with the intensity of one million pounds of TNT. Those who witnessed the action said the ship veritably lifted out of the sea and then settled down to the bottom of the harbor. From the first bomb to her demise, a total of nine minutes elapsed. 1,177 sailors are entombed to this day in the Arizona. The attack on Pearl Harbor lasted for a shade under two hours. 2,403 were killed in action, 1,178 wounded, 640 were never accounted for; plus, 188 planes were lost, 158 damaged, six major airfields, and every battleship of the Pacific Fleet – eight – crippled or sunk, in addition to other ships.

Why did it happen? Simple answer, really. We were not ready. Despite the fact that there had been diplomatic rumblings for weeks of something brewing, we were caught off guard. Now, it is 80 years later. The calendar says that Dec 7th is the anniversary of that fateful day. But it also says we are in the season of Advent, that time during the Church year when we are uniquely called to GET READY. We hear again the call of John the Baptist – “… as is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet: ‘A voice of one calling in the desert, “Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for Him.”‘ GET READY!

Click on chevron banners for additional insights into this week’s scripture in order to relate it to the lives of your parishioners.

First Reading

In the first reading, the prophet Baruch introduces Yahweh, the God of Israel, preparing the way for, and leading the Babylonian exiles to, Jerusalem. Hence, the prophet invites the weeping Jerusalem to rejoice and go to high places to watch the return of the exiles. Baruch’s prophecy announces the return of the whole human race to God. During this Advent season, we, too, are asked to return to the Lord from our slavery to sin.


Additional insights on the First Reading from Fr. Tony

Enemies practically destroyed Jerusalem in 587 BC and deported many Jews to Babylon. Almost fifty years later (in 538 BC), Cyrus, the Persian emperor, defeated Babylon and decreed that the exiles could return to their homelands. Many Jews returned to Judah and Jerusalem, though some stayed behind among the pagans. They became known as the Diaspora (dispersion) Jews. Although all the exiles were cut off from the Temple and the sacrifices of the community, most of them remained faithful to their ancestral religion. They nourished their Faith with the teaching of God’s word by prophets, scribes, and priests, primarily in their synagogue gatherings. They continued to feel their kinship with Judah’s Jews and to express longing for Jerusalem and its Temple in their writings. The book from which we read today is ascribed to Baruch, the secretary of the prophet Jeremiah who accompanied the Jews to Babylon in their exile. The book voices a hope for release from exile and oppression by portraying “Lady Jerusalem,” who, like a priest, takes off the robes of mourning and puts on the cloak of God’s justice and the miter that displays the glory of God’s name. Baruch’s words remind us that Advent is the suitable time for shedding the robes of selfishness and materialism in order to be clothed with the garments of mercy, kindness, and justice. Baruch declares that the restored exiles will have a new name: “Peace of Righteousness and Glory of Godliness.” Then he shares with Isaiah 40:3ff this comforting image: Between the land of the Captivity and Jerusalem, the desert will be leveled, its mountains smoothed down and its valleys filled up, so that the returning exiles can travel with ease. In the original Isaiahian setting, the people exiled in Babylon were told that their God would lead them home, just as He had led their ancestors through the wilderness to the Promised Land. They were assured that all obstacles would be removed so that this could be accomplished. Isaiah’s version is familiar to us in the form quoted by John the Baptist in today’s Gospel. [The book could also have been of great comfort to the Jews during the Persian period (500-300 BC), or the Hellenistic period (300-50 BC), or to Jews living in Alexandria around 200 BC, offering them a vision of hope and optimism as they struggled to keep their Faith.] As the Babylonian exiles longed to return to Jerusalem and the presence of God, so the people of God, during Advent especially, await Christ’s parousia so that we may return Home to the Promised Land, the Kingdom of God.

Second Reading

In the second reading, Paul advises the Philippians to prepare themselves for Christ’s Second Coming by practicing Christian love and by leading pure and blameless lives.


Additional insights on the Second Reading from Fr. Tony

This is another Pauline passage that warns the early Christians of the second coming of Jesus, referring to it as “the day of Christ” and “the day of Christ Jesus.” The passage stresses everyone’s need for that perpetual readiness to be found in leading a righteous life. Paul was very fond of the Philippian Christians and was very pleased with their spiritual progress and maturity. So, he assured them that their Heavenly Father, who had given them the gift of conversion, would continue to bring that “good work” to fruition. He would complete His work “at the day of Jesus Christ,” when Jesus would come in glory to judge the whole world. For their part, Paul prays that the Philippians’ “love may increase ever more and more, in knowledge and every kind of perception to discern what is of value so that you may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.” By virtue of our Baptism in the Lord, we are all fully-equipped with every grace we need to cooperate with God’s plan to get us to Heaven. Moreover, our Lord provides us with the graces of the other Sacraments and other actual graces throughout our lives to better ensure that we have even more assistance in getting to our Heavenly homeland, if only we will recognize and receive them and then make full use of them in changing our lives. Paul’s advice echoes the words of John the Baptist found in today’s Gospel, inviting the Jews to repent and renew their lives to welcome the Messiah.


John the Baptist, in today’s Gospel, challenges the Jews to prepare their lives for receiving their long-awaited Messiah. They are to prepare a highway in their hearts for their Messiah by levelling the mountains of pride and the valleys of impurity, injustice and neglect and straightening their crooked ways. They are to get ready by repenting of their sins, renewing their lives, and expressing their repentance by receiving the baptism of repentance in River Jordan and changing their lives.


Additional insights on the Gospel from Fr. Tony

The historical context: Each year, the second and the third Sundays in Advent center on John the Baptist, reminding us that if we want to prepare properly for the coming of Jesus we need to listen to the Baptizer’s message. The Evangelists realized the importance of John’s message. Hence, all four of them wrote about John’s preaching, while only two of them described the nativity of Christ. Following the style of ancient historians, Luke dates the appearance of John according to the ruling powers. He begins by setting the emergence of John against the secular context of the Roman Empire. After referring to the world situation and the Palestinian political condition, Luke turns to the Jewish religious context and reports John’s emergence as a Herald of the Messiah during the religious leadership of Annas and Caiaphas. Although Caiaphas was the reigning High-priest, it was Annas, his father-in-law and the retired High Priest, who was the religious power behind the throne of Galilee’s Tetrarch at that time, Herod Antipas, a son of Herod the Great. “Because of all of the names mentioned here, we know that these events happen somewhere between September of 27 A.D. and October of AD 28.” [1] But aside from using these names to set the date for us, Luke includes them to show how far Israel had fallen. Politically, the Jews were ruled by foreigners, and religiously, Annas and Caiaphas had been illegally put into their positions by the Roman authorities, and constantly used their power to line their own pockets and increase their own authority. Annas was even sometimes called a viper who hissed or whispered in the ears of judges and politicians in order to influence their decisions.” (Alfred Edersheim: “The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah”: New Updated Edition,1993). “The ‘coming of the word of God’ to someone is a standard formula for a prophetic call. In this case, the prophet was John the Baptizer, as he prepared the way for Jesus. The Baptizer proclaimed the coming of God’s Kingdom and preached a ceremony (a “baptism”), of immersion, as a response that was to symbolize the interior repentance that leads to forgiveness. The general consensus of Biblical scholars today is that John the Baptist began to preach in AD 28 or 29, and that Christ’s public ministry began that same year.” The passage reminds us that we need not be somebody well known and of great influence to be used by God. God uses you and me, sometimes instead of the most prominent or popular. Let us just get on our knees, in prayer, with the Word of God before us, and por out our responsive, loving self-surrender to Him asking Him to make any use of us and His gifts to us that He wills, that He may be glorified in us, too.

Theme of John’s preaching: the baptism of repentance: John’s baptism was not a proselyte baptism, converting Gentiles into Jews. In proselyte baptism, the Gentile would be immersed in a body of water (called a mikveh), to symbolize death and burial to his Gentile past, and then would be raised up from the water to symbolize being “born again,” raised to a new life as a Jew. This baptism symbolized turning from the past and turning toward a new life with God in the future. And what was repentance? It was a turning from the new Jew’s pattern of sin in the past and turning toward God. John’s baptism offered to Jews, was, thus extraordinary. It was a “baptism of repentance,” a baptism for the forgiveness of sins committed by those who were Jews already, and it required repentance (metanoeo, a change of being), which implied a turning around to proceed in a new direction True repentance is not just a 180 degree turn from the sin, but an all-out, full-bore, frantic sprint back toward God. [“Our basic problem is a heart problem. We need to get the heart changed, the heart transformed” (Rev. Billy Graham).] John, then, was inviting the Chosen people to be purified of the unholy elements in their lives. Fulfilling the prophetic words of Isaiah, John the Baptist’ preaching assisted in ensuring that in the lives of everyone who was baptized, “Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth” (Lk 3:5). Isiah was referring to mountains of pride and arrogance and valleys of discouragement and despair. As with Baruch, John presents an image of the mountains and valleys being made flat and smooth as a sign of Israel’s repentance and moral transformation.

Preparing “the way” means to create a favorable environment or to make it easy for Someone to come to one and operate in one’s life. The quotation which John’s work fulfills is taken from Isaiah 40:3-5, where the prophet was calling the people to prepare for the Lord’s visitation. If a king were planning to travel, work-crews would be dispatched to repair the roads. Ideally, the roads for the king’s journey would be straight, level, and smooth. John considered himself as the courier of the king. But the preparation on which John insisted was a preparation of heart and of life. “The king is coming,” he said in effect. “Mend, not your roads, but your lives.” The quotation, “making straight the paths of the Lord,” means clearing the path of sin, which is the major obstacle preventing the Lord from coming into our lives. The valley here stands for the estrangement of man from God.

John called people to repent as a way of preparing their hearts and lives for the Lord’s visit. He is calling us, too, to get ready for something so great that it fills our emptiness with expectation. A smooth road means nothing to God, but a repentant heart means a great deal. Hence, the truly important goal for us is to prepare our hearts to receive the Lord. By emphasizing the last line of the quotation “All flesh will see the salvation of God,” Luke stresses the universal aspect of God’s salvation. Having begun the section with a list of rulers who did not bring wholeness or salvation, Luke ends with the expectation of a true Lord Who can bring these about. We don’t live in a perfect world, and we don’t look to this world to see God’s salvation. For salvation, we have to look to Jesus — Jesus present in Scripture, Jesus present in the Sacraments, Jesus present as we come together in Jesus’ Name, Jesus present in the lives of his followers. Perhaps if we began to see Jesus in each other and in ourselves, and started to treat one another (and ourselves), as we would treat Jesus, more of the world might come to see God’s salvation.

The symbolic significance of John’s preaching at the Jordan: The Jordan River was the place that represented the eastern border of the Promised Land, separating it from the desert — where the Jews had wandered aimlessly for 40 years after centuries of slavery in Egypt. By preaching his message there, John was inviting the Jews of his day to come out of the bondage of slavery, to leave their faults, their wandering and their sinful lives behind, and to enter into the Promised Land full of God’s blessings. The Fathers of the Church have called the Sacrament of Reconciliation our “second baptism,” in which we’re brought back to the Jordan and cleansed interiorly as we were on the day of our Christening. Advent, like Lent, is a season given to us so that we may repent of our sins and be reconciled with God and His Church by receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation. It was for this purpose that the Sacrament was instituted by Jesus after His Resurrection: “Receive the Holy Spirit: Those whose sins you forgive are forgiven; those whose sins you retain are retained” (Jn 20:18-22). It is for this on-going reconciliation, then, not just to “preach repentance and forgiveness of sins … to all nations beginning from Jerusalem” (Lk 24:47), that Jesus sent the apostles and their successors out to the ends of the world.

Life messages

We need to prepare our hearts and lives for Jesus our Savior to be reborn in us during this Christmas time

We have to fill in the “valleys” of our souls, formed from our shallow prayer life and a minimalist living out of our Faith. We have to straighten whatever crooked paths we’ve been walking, like involvement in some secret or habitual sins or in a sinful relationship. If we have been involved in some dishonest practices at work or at home, we are called to straighten them out and make restitution. If we have been harboring grudges or hatred, or failing to be reconciled with others, now is the time to clear away all the debris. As individuals, we might have to overcome deep-seated resentment, persistent fault-finding, unwillingness to forgive, dishonesty in our dealings with others, or a bullying attitude. And we all have to level the “mountains” of our pride and egocentrism by practicing the true humility of rendering humble service to others.

We need to repent and seek forgiveness from God and those we have injured

John’s message calls us to confront and confess our sins. We need to turn away from them in sincere repentance and receive God’s forgiveness. Next, we need to forgive others who have offended us and ask forgiveness for our offenses. Jesus explicitly declares (Mt 6:14-15): “For if you forgive men their transgressions, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.”


#1: We need to prepare the way for the Messiah in our hearts: We have to fill in the “valleys” of our souls which have resulted from our shallow prayer life and a minimalist way of living out our Faith. We have to straighten whatever crooked paths we’ve been walking, like involvement in some secret or habitual sins or in a sinful relationship. If we have been involved in some dishonest practices at work or at home, we are called to straighten them out and make restitution. If we have been harboring grudges or hatred, or failing to be reconciled with others, now is the time to clear away all the debris. If we have been pushing God off to the side of our road, if we have been saying to Him that we don’t really have the time for Him, now is the time for us to get our priorities straight. As individuals, we might have to overcome deep-seated resentment, persistent fault-finding, unwillingness to forgive, dishonesty in our dealings with others, or a bullying attitude. And we all have to level the “mountains” of our pride and egocentrism. As a society we might have to dismantle unfair housing policies, employment disparity, economic injustice, or racial and ethnic biases.

#2: We need to repent and seek forgiveness from God and our fellow-human beings: John’s message calls us to confront and confess our sins. We have to turn away from them in sincere repentance in order to receive God’s forgiveness. There are basically two reasons why people who have recognized their sins fail to receive forgiveness for them. The first is that they fail to repent — but the second is that they fail to forgive. Jesus is very explicit about this (Matthew 6:14-15). He says, “For if you forgive men their transgressions, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.” Is there someone I need to forgive today? Someone’s whose pardon I need to ask? We must not let what others have done destroy our lives. We can’t be forgiven unless we forgive. We must release our bitterness if we are to be able to allow God to do His healing work in our lives.

# 3: We need to accommodate John the Baptizer in our lives: William Bausch offers some suggestions as to how we might accommodate the Baptizer. “Make friends with someone you’re at odds with. Pick up the phone and talk to somebody you haven’t talked to in months or years. Be the first to hold out the hand of reconciliation even though it gets slapped or rejected. Don’t turn your head at shady dealings. Be willing to put some of your possessions on the line. Tithe, not out of your excess, but out of your substance. Add up the amounts you have set aside for your Christmas spending, and then slice off 10 percent and give it to the poor. Give evidence that you mean to repent.” Sally Koch reminds us that great opportunities to help others seldom come but small ones surround us every day. It takes only a minute to be kind, but the prophet reminds us the end result can remain forever and a day.

End of homily

Jokes of the Week

At the end of Mass, some priests like to offer a joke to their parishioners. Please be sensitive though to particular circumstances or concerns. Some Jokes may not be suitable for particular times, placeS, OR CONGREGATIONS. 


#1: “Oh, well, soap only works when it is applied.”  A soap manufacturer and a pastor were walking together down a street in a large city. The soap manufacturer casually said, “The Gospel you preach hasn’t done much good, has it? Just observe. There is still a lot of wickedness in the world, and a lot of wicked people, too!” The pastor made no reply until they passed a dirty little child making mud pies in the gutter. Seizing the opportunity, the pastor said, “I see that soap hasn’t done much good in the world either; for there is much dirt still here, and many dirty people are still around.” The soap man said, “Oh, well, soap only works when it is applied.” And the pastor said, “Exactly! So, it is with the Gospel.”

Fr. Tony started his homily ministry (Scriptural Homilies) in 2003 while he was the chaplain at Sacred Heart residence, applying his scientific methodology to the homily ministry. By word of mouth, it spread to hundreds of priests and Deacons, finally reaching Vatican Radio website (http://www.vaticannews.va/en/church.html). Fr. Tony’s homilies reach nearly 3000 priests and Deacons by direct email every week. Since Fr. Tony is retiring from parish duties, he has started a personal website: https://frtonyshomilies.com/ where he has started putting his Sunday and weekday homilies, RCIA lessons, Faith Formation articles and other useful items for pastors and pastoral assistants. Fr. Tony warmly invites priests and deacons and the public to visit his website and use it for their preaching and teaching ministries. He welcomes your corrections, modifications and suggestions to improve the homilies and articles given in this website.

The “Death Door” of St. Peter’s Basilica

Two or three years ago, I saw the death door at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

Some of you may remember that the great Pope St. John XXIII, blessed be his memory, commissioned the eminent artist, Giacomo Manzu, to sculpt a new door for that great basilica which was completed in 1964. The artist depicted on that door a series of death scenes. There was death by falling, death in war, the martyred death of Peter upside down on the cross, and others.

Death by drowning is there, death by water. And I reasoned as I looked at that door, that this was behind the sculptor’s theme – we enter the Church by death. Baptism – our acted entrance into the Church — is by water.

Death by water, then, is a challenging and authentic understanding of Baptism. The early Church even built its baptismal fonts in the shape of tombs to make that meaning graphic. We cannot underscore the meaning of Baptism too much if we’re going to save ourselves from approaching casually that event in a person’s life which is so crucial: being buried with Christ in Baptism – having the sign and the seal of our salvation placed upon us with water and the laying on of hands.

“Neither God nor man’s got nothing on me now”

Some of you may have seen the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou. This is a whimsical retelling of Homer’s Odyssey, set in 1930s Mississippi. Three hapless escaped convicts–Everett, Pete and Delmar–are hiding out in the woods, running from the law.

There they encounter a procession of white-robed people going down to the lake to be baptized. As they move toward the water they sing, “Let’s go down to the river and pray.” As the Baptism ceremony begins, Delmar is overwhelmed by the beauty and the mystery of this rite. He runs into the water and is baptized by the minister.

As he returns to his companions, he declares that he is now saved and “neither God nor man’s got nothing on me now.” He explains that the minister has told him that all his sins have been washed away.  Even, he says, when he stole the pig for which he’d been convicted. “But you said you were innocent of that,” one of his fellow convicts exclaims. “I lied,” he says, “and that’s been washed away too!”

Later the three convicts steal a hot pie from a window sill.  The one who felt that his sins had been washed away returns and places a dollar bill on the window sill. — Delmar wasn’t made perfect by his Baptism any more than any of the rest of us are made perfect by our Baptism. But he was conscious that it was time for him to make a new beginning. That is why in understanding Baptism we begin with the washing away of our sins.

Sign of the cross on the Christian’s forehead

In the earliest Baptismal liturgies, after the person had been baptized, he or she appeared before the bishop. The bishop embraced the new Christian then did something of great significance – the bishop dipped his finger into oil and made the sign of the cross on the Christian’s forehead. This was known as the signation, the signature. The sign of the cross upon a person’s forehead was like a brand to show ownership.

As sheep are marked to show ownership, so Christians are marked by Baptism to show Who owns them and to Whose flock they belong. By Baptism, Christians are branded to show Who chose them and Who now owns them. Let us always remember our Baptism!

Warning signs

At an intersection, the green light changes to yellow. At the theater, the house lights flash. In the Battalion Tactical Operations Center, a Warning Order comes down from Brigade. At the airport terminal, the boarding call comes over the intercom. At a railroad crossing, the lights begin to flash. In a small Midwestern town, the tornado siren screams. On the football field, the two-minute warning sounds. In the cargo bay of a C-140, a red light comes on. In the Desert of Judea, a voice of one calling in the wilderness is heard declaring, “Prepare the way of the Lord.”

What do all these have in common? They are signs or warnings that people, including ourselves, need to prepare for what is about to happen. Today’s readings give the same message of warning.

“Make ready the way of the Lord”

A blizzard hit the Kansas prairie. Two feet of snow drifted to five and six feet in places.

The telephone rang in the doctor’s home. The time had come for John Lang’s wife to have her baby. But it was impossible for the doctor to get through those drifts.

John Lang called his neighbors: “Can you help the doc to get through?”

In no time, from all directions, came men and boys with plows and shovels. They labored with all their might almost for two hours until finally the old doc was able to make it, just in time to deliver the Lang boy.

Today, to all of us comes a call from another Father, God the Father through His prophet Isaiah and repeated by Jesus’ own cousin John the Baptist: “Make ready the way of the Lord.” But we are called, not to remove piles of snow, but piles of sin, neglect, thoughtlessness, the things that make it difficult and often impossible for the Divine Child to be reborn to our hearts and lives. (Msgr. Arthur Tonne).

“Please know that the management forgives you”

Edwin Orr, a professor of Church history has described the great outpouring of the Holy Spirit during the Welsh Revivals of the nineteenth century. As people sought to be filled with the Spirit, they did all they could to confess their wrongdoings and to make restitution.

But their fervor unexpectedly created serious problems for the shipyards along the coast of Wales. Over the years, workers had stolen all kinds of things, from wheelbarrows to hammers. However, as people sought reunion with God, they started to return what they had taken, with the result that soon the shipyards of Wales were overwhelmed with returned property.

There were such huge piles of returned tools that several of the yards put up signs that read, “If you have been led by God to return what you have stolen, please know that the management forgives you and wishes you to keep what you have taken.”

Today’s readings challenge us to prepare a royal highway in our hearts for receiving Jesus during Christmas by repenting of our sins and renewing our lives.

“This is an old sinner”

The story is told of an old mountain preacher who was baptizing converts at a revival meeting. Up stepped a wiry, sharp-eyed old man who said he wanted to be baptized too. The preacher led the man into the water. He asked the usual question: Was there any reason why the ordinance of Baptism should not be administered. After a pause a tall, powerful-looking man, who was watching quietly, remarked: “Preacher, I don’t want to interfere in your business, but I want to say that this is an old sinner you have got hold of, and that one dip won’t do him any good; you’ll have to anchor him out in deep water overnight.” The objector was right. If the hope for cleansing was based on the efforts of the water, there was going to have to be a whole lot more water used! [Leewin Williams, editor, Encyclopedia of Wit, Humor and Wisdom (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1949), p. 248.

It is not water that saves us. Water is but a symbol. Water itself has no saving power. And to be frank about it, neither does the strength of our belief.

“I’m a new creature since I asked Jesus into my heart”

Sue Monk Kidd, in her book, All Things Are Possible (C. R. Gibson Co., 1988), says that so often when she opens a newspaper, she finds herself reading a depressing headline, “words in big letters shouting about a world threat, a crisis, another crime.” There is surely a lot of bad news to read about these days. One day she opened her town’s paper, however, and read a remarkable headline printed in half-inch letters. The headline read like this: “I Asked Jesus into My Heart.”

This story followed: “During the night dogs had begun to bark furiously around the home of a local couple. Usually the dogs’ barking signaled something amiss, that perhaps prowlers lurked nearby. But the next morning, the couple discovered that nothing had been taken. Instead, something had been returned. Outside the front door were two car speakers that had been stolen six weeks earlier. A note attached to them read like this: ‘I’m sorry that I took your speakers, but now I have repented my sins and asked Jesus to forgive me. I hope you will forgive me too. I no longer take other people’s belongings…God has changed me. I’m a new creature since I asked Jesus into my heart.’ It was signed simply, ‘Saved.’”

It could have been signed, “Baptized.” In fact, I like “baptized” better. “Saved” connotes that we have been delivered from the power of sin, but Baptism is more than that. Baptism means that we have put on new life in Christ.

Our religion is a way of life

The Wall Street Journal carried an article (9-12-94) about the dramatic increase of fundamentalist Islam in Turkey “a country that has been relatively secular.” They quoted a young Muslim Turk: “Our view of religion is different from yours,” he said to a western visitor. “According to your rules,” he continued, “religion counts only in the place where you pray. Our religion is a way of life. I have no time at all, not one minute, without Islam.”

Is that how the world views the Christian Faith: its rules apply to its adherents only while they are in Church? Where have we missed it? Why do we not understand that Baptism means the beginning of new life? To paraphrase that young Muslim: “I have no time at all, not one minute, without Christ.

Which is better: agnostic or fanatic?

Robert Short, author of The Gospel According to Peanuts and Parables of Peanuts, tells how, as a high school student in Midland, Texas, he became an agnostic, though he had been raised in a Methodist home. He became president of a science club that caused such a controversy that his high school principal complained to his parents. He tells how he sat across from his mother who, with tears running down her face said, “I thought we raised you right. I never thought it would come to this – our son an agnostic.” Later Robert Short found a new relationship to Jesus Christ in college and felt a call to the ministry. At home, he told his mother of his decision. Sitting at that same kitchen table, with tears running down her cheeks, she said, “I never thought it would come to this – my son, a religious fanatic.”

“A severe nonlinear waterfowl issue”

There was a meeting of a group of software designers. They were using typical technical jargon to discuss a data exchange interface with a vendor. One engineer said the programming that had been ordered was delayed because the vendor was suffering from a “severe nonlinear waterfowl issue.” Curious, the team leader raised his eyebrows and asked, “What exactly is a ‘severe nonlinear waterfowl issue’?” The engineer replied, “They don’t have all their ducks in a row.”– On this second Sunday of Advent, John the Baptist comes to ask us if we have a “severe nonlinear waterfowl issue.” Do we have all our ducks in a row for the coming of the Messiah? Luke tells us that the coming of John the Baptist is the fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness:  ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. 5 Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth; 6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’” (Luke 3:4-6; Isaiah 40:3-5).

Be prepared

The Amish do not believe in an ordained ministry. All their religious services are held in private homes. Whenever a worship service is held, a big black wagon full of benches is driven to the designated home, and the worshipers gather. No one knows in advance who will preach the morning sermon; the leader for the day is chosen by lot or by last-minute consensus.

Carter asked an Amish bishop how people could prepare a sermon if they didn’t know when they would be called on, and he replied, with a genuinely modest attitude, “We always have to be prepared.” [(New York: Random House, Inc., 1996), p. 260.]

Wow! Imagine coming to worship never knowing when you might be called on to give the sermon. It’s hard enough to prepare yourself to listen to a sermon, but what if I unexpectedly called on you to deliver the message for the day? You would probably come to worship better prepared! So, let’s do a check-list and ask once more, are we prepared internally to celebrate Christ’s birth?

Prepare, prepare, prepare

It is the message of Christmas season. –not because Jesus won’t come if we don’t, but because we may miss Jesus if we don’t. Eleanor Roosevelt kept up a backbreaking schedule of public appearances with organizations she believed in, mostly civil rights and humanitarian organizations. She got the reputation in her latter years of being a “do-gooder,” which was used pejoratively when they spoke of her. But she kept it up. Even when she became frail in the latter years of her life and didn’t feel like keeping these appointments, she always did it. She came to one meeting. A man greeted her at the curb, opened the door of the car. She said, “You’ll have to help me out, my head is heavy.” He helped her out. Then she said, “You’ll have to keep me steady now as I walk.” He held her arm, and they walked over toward the crowd. A little African-American girl came out of the crowd with an armful of flowers, and presented them to Mrs. Roosevelt.

 She turned to the man who helped her, and said, “You see I had to come. I was expected.”

Wrong Swing”?

t was a hot Sunday in June. Millions of Americans were watching the U. S. Golf Open on TV. At a critical point in the play, the camera focused on Jack Nicklaus. He was in the rough and preparing to shoot out. Slowly and deliberately, he addressed the ball. Then for a full 20 seconds of primetime TV, he stood poised and ready to swing. Suddenly, at the last moment, he backed away from the ball and said loud enough for everybody to hear, “That’s the wrong swing.” The sports announcer covering the match was confused and said, “But he didn’t swing! What’s going on here?” A lot was going on. And Nicklaus explains exactly what it was in his book Golf My Way. There he describes how he prepares for every shot he takes. It’s a process called mental rehearsal. This simply means that he plays every shot in his imagination before he plays it for real. Nicklaus writes: “It’s like a colour movie. First, I ‘see’ the ball where I want it to finish, nice and white… on the bright green grass. “Then the scene quickly changes and I ‘see’ the ball going there. …even its behaviour on landing. “Then there’s a sort of fade-out, and the next scene shows me making the kind of swing that will turn the previous images into reality.’– What Jack Nicklaus was doing that hot Sunday afternoon in the U. S. Open is what the Church asks us to do during the season of Advent. The Church asks us to go through a kind of mental rehearsal to prepare for the coming of Christ. (Mark Link in ‘Sunday Homilies; quoted by Fr. Botelho).

“May I know your name?”

In a certain cathedral in Europe, there was a magnificent pipe organ that only the designated church organist was allowed to play. One day, while the sexton was checking the choir loft before closing the church, he heard the footsteps of a stranger climb into the choir loft. “Please, sir,” begged the stranger, “I have travelled a long way only to be able to sit and play this marvelous organ. May I have your kind permission to do so?” “No,” replied the sexton, “This instrument may be played only by one person. If I allow you, I may lose my job.” The stranger understood, but appeared deeply disappointed. “But,” he persisted, “may I play just a few chords? I promise it won’t be long. A few moments are all I ask.” The sexton was moved to compassion and permitted that stranger to play the pipe organ, on condition that he stopped after a few bars. Moving to the seat before that magnificent organ, the stranger closed his eyes for a few moments, and then began. His touch was so masterful and the music so delightful, that the sexton just stood there as though transfixed. He just couldn’t believe his ears. The stranger was an accomplished musician and brilliant organist. A few minutes later, the stranger stopped and slid off the bemch. Gratefully he thanked the sexton for permitting him that rare privilege and began to walk away. “Wait,” pleaded the sexton, “I have never heard such music from this organ before. Please tell me your name?” The stranger replied, “Mendelssohn.” “What!” exclaimed the stupefied sexton, “are you truly the famous composer and musician, Felix Mendelssohn?” “Yes, sir,” replied the stranger, and modestly walked away.– Every good turn done to another in need is actually done to Jesus, who like Felix Mendelssohn, presents himself in a surprising disguise.
(James Valladares in Your Words Are Spirit and They Are Life; quoted by Fr. Botelho).

Spirit quest

Among several of the indigenous cultures of the northern and southern American continents, the rites of passage for young people growing to maturity included a ritual called the spirit quest. Compulsory for boys and recommended for girls, the quest required that the individual journey alone to a secluded place; some distance from the village. After several days of fasting and meditation, it was believed that a guardian-spirit would grant a vision to the young person, a vision that would inspire and direct the course of his/her future. Once restored to his/her tribal community, the vision remained a source of strength and encouragement, particularly in times of difficulty.

In a sense, the Church’s annual observance of the season of Advent could be likened to a spirit quest. (Sanchez archives).

Who you are makes a difference!

A teacher in New York decided to honour each of her seniors in high school by telling them the difference they each made. First, she told each of them how they had made a difference to her and the class. Then she presented each of them with a blue ribbon imprinted with gold letters that read, “Who I Am Makes a Difference.” She also gave each of the students three more ribbons and instructed them to go out and spread this acknowledgment ceremony. Later that day a junior executive went in to see his boss, who had been noted as being kind of a grouchy fellow. He sat his boss down and he told him that he deeply admired him for being a creative genius. The boss seemed very surprised. The junior executive asked him if he would accept the gift of the blue ribbon and took the blue ribbon and placed it right on his boss’s jacket above his heart. As he left, he said, “Would you take this extra ribbon and pass it on by honoring somebody else?” That night the boss came home to his 14-year-old son and sat him down. He said, “The most incredible thing happened to me today. I was in my office and one of the junior executives came in and told me he admired me and gave me a blue ribbon for being a creative genius. He gave me an extra ribbon and asked me to find somebody else to honor. As I was driving home tonight, I started thinking about whom I would honor with this ribbon and I thought about you. I want to honor you. My days are really hectic and when I come home, I don’t pay a lot of attention to you. Tonight, I just wanted to let you know that you do make a difference to me. Besides your mother, you are the most important person in my life. You’re a great kid and I love you!” The startled boy started to sob and sob, and he couldn’t stop crying. He looked up at his father and said through his tears, “I was planning on committing suicide tomorrow, Dad, because I didn’t think you loved me. Now I know you care. This is the happiest day I’ve known.”

The boss went back to work a changed man. He was no longer a grouch but made sure to let all his employees know that they made a difference. And the young boy and his classmates learned a valuable lesson. Who you are does make a difference! (Anonymous; quoted by Fr. Botelho).

Change your thinking! Change yourself!

Once upon a time there was a king, who ruled a prosperous country. One day he went for a trip to some distant areas of his country. When he came back to his palace, he complained that his feet were very sore because it was the first time that he had gone for such a long trip, and the road he had used was very rough and stony. He then ordered his people to cover every road of the country with leather. Definitely this would need skins of thousands of animals, and would cost a huge amount of money. Then one of his wise advisors dared to question the king, “Why do you have to spend that unnecessary amount of money? Why don’t you just cut a little piece of leather to cover your feet?” The king was surprised, but later agreed to his suggestion to make a ‘shoe’ for himself.

We often say, “I wish things would change or people would change.” Instead wise people say: “Change your thinking and change your world.” (John Pichappilly in The Table of the Word; quoted by Fr. Botelho).

Are we repentant?

I’m no cricket buff, but I do follow from afar, the wins and woes of cricketing nations. Ironically, though Australia won the ICC Championship Trophy on November 5, 2006, it lost the respect of sports-persons nationwide, for its rowdy, reprehensible behavior at the prize-presentation ceremony. Television replays showed Australian cricketers pushing and shoving Sharad Pawar, President of the BCCI and Central Cabinet Minister. Later, Australian captain, Ricky Ponting, apologized for his teammates’ uncivilized behavior.

Repentance for a group’s misbehavior is perhaps easier than personal repentance. But that is what today’s readings require. (Francis Gonsalves in Sunday Seeds for Daily Deeds; quoted by Fr. Botelho).

Bat baptism

Three pastors got together for coffee one morning. Much to their surprise they discovered that all their churches had problems with bats infesting their belfries. The bats were making a terrible mess. “I got so mad,” said one pastor, “I took a shotgun and fired at them. It made holes in the ceiling but did nothing to the bats.”  “I tried trapping them alive,” said the second. “Then I drove 50 miles before releasing them, but they beat me back to the Church.”  “I haven’t had any more problems,” said the third.  “What did you do?” asked the others, amazed.  “I simply baptized and confirmed them,” he replied. “I haven’t seen them since.” — If that story doesn’t make you laugh, it will make you cry. It is such a common occurrence. People come to the Church desiring Christian Baptism and Church membership. We welcome them into our fellowship, and then for six weeks or so after we welcome them into our fellowship, we don’t hear anything of them. What does it mean? Or parents stand in the Church to present a child to God. They make promises to bring up that child in the household of Faith, and then they disappear. We rarely see them again. What did those promises mean? On this second Sunday of the New Church Year, our lesson from the Gospels focuses our attention on the place of Baptism in our lives. Jesus came to be baptized by John.

Difference between Heaven and Hell

A story is told of a soldier who asked a monk, “Teach me the difference between heaven and hell.” The monk said, “You are an obvious coward, not a warrior. Furthermore, I believe you do not know how to use that gun.” The soldier was so enraged that he drew his revolver from his holster to shoot the monk. As he prepared to squeeze the trigger, the monk said calmly, “That’s Hell.” The abashed soldier immediately came to his senses and placed his gun back in its holster. And the monk said quietly, “That’s Heaven.”

In twenty days, we shall salute the feast when Heaven came to earth as a Child. As a fitting preparation for that feast this second week of Advent, why don’t we  each attempt to reproduce Heaven on earth in the here and now? Why need we wait for Christmas day itself? (Fr. James Gilhooley).

A stick to the bigger fool

Once a certain village king was called to make a journey to another kingdom. The journey required traveling through a vast forest, so he requested several of his subjects to accompany him. He put one of them in charge preparing everyone for the trip, and soon they were on their way. As the sojourners were making their way through the forest, they suddenly encountered a tiger. The king requested a gun from the subject he put in charge. His subject told him that he hadn’t thought to bring a gun. The king became very enraged and told him – “You are such a fool! How could you have forgotten to prepare for any such possibility on our journey?” Then handing him over a stick he said, Here – take this stick and lead us on to our destination. And then carry it always with you until you find someone who is a bigger fool than you, and then you can pass it on to him.” The subject went on to keep the stick the king gave him for many years. As the time passed the king became old and ill. The end of his life neared and so he began receiving visits from his subjects at his bedside. One day, the man whom he had rewarded with the stick for being ‘such a fool’ arrived to see the king. He was still carrying the stick. He came to the king and said to him – Your Majesty, if you allow me, may I ask you a question?” And after permission was granted, he gently asked the king – “My Lord, have you prepared well for this important journey you are about to take?” The king looked at him with surprise and then he said

 Prepared for this journey? I’m ill and near death. How would I have prepared for such a journey?” “Then,” said the subject, gently handing him the stick, you have this stick and keep it with you.” And then he walked away quietly. (Fr. Albert Lakra).

Then do not be a pond. Be a bay”

“There is a  story is told about a young monk who approached an experienced desert Father. He expressed his frustration“I feel so restricted. I am stagnating like a pond or a puddle.” The elderly monk responded, “Then do not be a pond. Be a bay.” —  A bay of course is joined with the immense ocean. Each day it has a fresh exchange of water. It rarely stagnates. St. John the Baptist was like that. He was in an extremely lonely spot – the Judean desert. But desert is a place where one encounters God. Also, he did not stagnate, for he always connected himself with the great ocean, viz. God’s mercy. So, during this Holy Period of Advent when we prepare ourselves for the coming of Our Lord, what should our response be? There can be two responses on our part: First, we need once more to hear the challenging call of John the Baptist to baptism of repentance and forgiveness, and connect ourselves to the ocean of God’s mercy, and second, we have to realize that our own role is not unlike that of John the Baptist. Like him, each one of us has a mission to communicate the message of hope, love, freedom and peace to others, so that – “All flesh shall see the salvation of the Lord!”  (Fr. Albert Lakra).

Value the things that really matter

A fairy tale come to life. Such was the story of Princess Grace of Monaco. The daughter of a self-made Philadelphia millionaire, Grace Kelly, moved from finishing school into acting and from Oscar-winning stardom into marriage with the reigning Prince of Monaco. Over the years a fair number of American women have wedded foreign noblemen, and even foreign rulers. More often than not, however, their marriages have floundered. Not so the marriage of Rainier and Grace. Apart from the trials that come to every couple, they really did “live happily ever after.” Probably the main reason why their match was happy was that Grace Kelly never shirked responsibilities. When she was an actress, she took that profession seriously, and by the time she retired from the screen, she had moved far towards mastering the art of acting. When she became a princess, she also took that role seriously. It was her duty to be a leader to her people, and she was a leader. In his telegram of condolence to Prince Rainier on the Princess’s death, Pope John Paul praised her for this trait: “She always fulfilled her mission as sovereign and as mother of a family with a great spirit of faith and in a manner which won her the respect and sympathy of all.“ –

Glamor she had, and very great beauty. But beneath the outward attractiveness lay a strong Christian conviction of the importance of the family and a deep reverence for wifehood and motherhood. She vigorously opposed pornography, abortion, and whatever else was harmful to human families; and she found in the Mass and in her charitable causes strength and fulfillment. St. Paul prayed that Christians might “learn to value the things that really matter, up to the very day of Christ:” (Philippians, 1, 10). Grace Kelly was one of the beneficiaries of his prayer. (Father Robert F. McNamara).

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